Biography of Famous Playwrights: Henrik Ibsen Part 2

About the famous Scandanavian playwright Henrik Ibsen, biography and history of the drama master.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

The 1st of Ibsen's realistic dramas, The Pillars of Society (1877), dealt with hypocrisy. In A Doll's House (1879), he attacked the sacrosanct institution of marriage. The sheltered Nora Helmer commits forgery to save her unsuspecting husband. His behavior upon finding out shows Nora that, for 8 years, she has played the role of a "doll" in his eyes. She leaves Helmer so that she can be a real person. In Ghosts (1881), he continued the assault, writing of a wife and mother who had sacrificed herself to retain conventional attitudes she knows will not save her marriage.

Both plays caused him to be condemned by public and press alike, which labeled them as "immoral" and "affronts to all the decencies." In Germany, the playgoers demanded--and got--a happier ending for A Doll's House. Nora's last line was changed to "Oh, I sin before myself, but I cannot leave them!" And she stayed.

Writing in 1885, Ibsen completed The Wild Duck, a satire full of cryptical imagery and sinister implication. Following an affair he had, at age 61, with the 17-year-old Austrian girl, Emilie Bardach, Ibsen produced The Master Builder, using Emilie as the model for the play's Hilda Wangel. In 1891, he returned to Oslo to spend the remainder of his life, producing only 3 more plays. These were tragedies that dwelt on the subjects of man's miserable resignation to life, impending death, and the promise of resurrection.

In his last 15 years, Ibsen's earlier ostracism from his native land was forgotten. He was followed, photographed, and quoted at length. Ironically, he now tried to avoid the publicity and the crowds fame brought. At 72, Ibsen's life ended with the same theme of tragedy with which it had begun: He suffered a series of strokes that robbed him of even a child's ability to recite the alphabet. The 3rd stroke on May 23, 1906, killed him.

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